“Nobody knows me.”
This is my first thought every morning. Before I even open my eyes, I’ve doomed and dismissed my day.
I come downstairs, following the smell of coffee. My husband Matt is by the percolator, our son in his uniform.
“Nobody knows me here,” I say to Matt, not for the first time.
“Oh, that’s not true,” he says, also not for the first time. “What about…” listing off a menagerie of friends and coworkers, our dear neighbors and church friends.
“It’s not the same,” I cry into my coffee. “They don’t KNOW me, know me.” I place a drawn out emphasis for maximum effect.
This is a fairly common conversation during our first year in a relatively small, rural village north of Dublin. Round and round we go: me looking for some sympathy, my husband gently nudging me towards reality.
I was known, but it didn’t feel like it at the time. And of those whom I realized did know me, working alongside Matt and I in our first few months of ministry, I sensed they didn’t like me very much. I have a pesky penchant for sticking my foot in my mouth during meetings.
When pulling up stakes and moving around the world, it’s fairly safe to assume we will not be known. But we can take it for granted – this calling, this Holy Spirit prompt – that if God has told us to go, untold blessings on the other side will make the sacrifice worth it.
My slightly delusional thoughts were twofold:
For starters, won’t it be exciting to start fresh with a whole new community of people? I can be a new me and all the baggage of past relationships and experiences will pale in comparison.
And as a bonus, I’ll fit right into a formed team of people who are already familiar to me! Our email presence has been pretty extensive over the years of support-raising, so I’m ready to take my place alongside them, with our shared vision and experience of relocating and serving cross-culturally.
I mean, what could go wrong?
Unsurprisingly, neither expectation was accurate. I was still me, grieving those I’d left behind, carrying the emotional and relational baggage I’d been packing all those years. The new friends Matt had generously listed couldn’t see the upheaval or the loss or the dreams of the past. And our team, like any new workplace, had to make room for us, kindly but patiently waiting to see what we could offer.
We were earning our emotional keep on both fronts. And it was back-breaking, heart-aching work.
The gut punch, though, was this: as much as I assumed they didn’t know me, did I really know them, either?
Who was I investing time with, what questions did I ask? Was I praying for them, serving them? Did I recognize a need and offer time or resources? Most importantly, was I patient? When I sensed ambivalence or reticence did I back up a pace or two, did I maintain a steady presence from a safe distance, waiting for trust to develop?
Through the course of those first years on the field, though I made a very small number of true heart-friends, the answer to most of those questions was a head-hanging, shame-filled no.
I didn’t know them.
And I didn’t wait to be known, either. I had a baby and mothered my kids and stood idly in the background till our time was up. We were starting over again, this time back on home turf, and Jesus began revealing how to be known.
First, by Him. Oh, He knows me and loves me and built me with this craving for intimacy. This isn’t lame or trite; it’s the Truth. If He is our redeemer and friend, then He – who loved us first and waits for us to know and love Him in return – is also our guide. I want to emulate His call from the Father to love and serve first, without guaranteed equal measures of reciprocation.
Secondly, I need to be available. When we returned to the US for an extended home assignment, I had nothing but time and regret on my hands. God brought us to a community and said, “Stay here awhile. Get to know Me, get to know them.” So we did. I opened my heart more than was comfortable and He filled it with soul sisters who met me right where I was, as is.
Finally, back on Irish soil and with maybe a bit more baggage (some of it way prettier and more useful than others), I can accept: not everyone will know know me. And I think that’s OK. I’m recognizing those who do and investing in those I long to know better. I have Matt, always ready with a list of people to snap me out of self-defeat. And I’m throwing my cares and my fears on the One who knows me most of all.
Loneliness will come, it always does. But I must wake up, open my eyes and see: I am known.
This is a much better way to start the day, don’t you think?